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Naples 'suffocated' by rubbish, again

by Staff Writers
Naples, Italy (AFP) Jan 3, 2008
The Naples region was grappling Thursday with a chronic rubbish disposal problem as at least 2,000 tonnes of excess garbage piled up outside dumps and in the streets.

Overburdened waste treatment centres in the impoverished southern region have been unable to handle the surplus, a scenario that has been repeated countless times over the past decade and a half.

The daily La Repubblica described the region, with a population of some six million, as "a community that is sinking and suffocating in its own excrement."

Firefighters overnight doused 70 flaming rubbish heaps, set alight by angry residents, the ANSA news agency reported, after a similar number of fires were extinguished Tuesday.

For the second day in a row, defying a warning of tough action by the interior ministry, protesters blocked traffic on a main road near a condemned dump in the western Naples suburb of Pianura that authorities are trying to reopen, ANSA said.

Clandestine dumping by organised crime dubbed the "ecomafia" has forced the closure of several treatment centres.

Criminal investigators say the Camorra mafia pay truckers to haul industrial waste from factories in northern Italy for fees that undercut those of the legal trade. They bring it to illegal dumps in the Naples region made by blasting holes in mountainsides.

In Brussels, a spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the European Union was monitoring the situation.

The EU opened an infringement case last June when it asked Rome to detail measures for protecting human health and the environment in the impoverished southern region.

"Obviously we are quite concerned about the waste situation in the Campania region, in particular Naples," Barbara Helfferich told a press conference on Thursday.

"The Commission will look into the matter more closely in the next weeks," she said, adding: "We are still quite far away from any talk of sanctions."

Rome replied to the initial letter, but Brussels is awaiting a response to a further notice sent on October 23 with a December 23 deadline, she said.

"If not enough has changed to alleviate the situation... then we may consider going to court, and only if the court judgement is not respected" could Italy face a fine, Helfferich said.

Italy first decreed a "waste disposal state of emergency" in 1994, and it has been renewed annually ever since.

"They call it an emergency, but... the same story has been repeated for a decade now," commented leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

While Naples' Camorra mafia are well known for drug trafficking, experts say the multi-billion euro waste business is their second source of revenue, begun in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s.

The area's waste disposal problem was dramatised by a report in the British medical journal The Lancet Oncology in 2004 that identified a "triangle of death" east of Naples where toxic waste has been linked to a higher incidence of cancer, especially liver cancer.

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